Ilokano language

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Spoken in: Philippines 
Region: Northern Luzon
Total speakers: 7.7 million, est. 2.3 million second language = 10 million total 
Ranking: 75
Language family:
   Northern Philippine
    Northern Luzon
Writing system: Latin alphabet;
Historically written in Baybayin
Language codes
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: ilo
ISO 639-3: ilo

Ilokano (variants: Ilocano, Iluko, Iloco, and Iloko) is the third most-spoken language of the Republic of the Philippines.

Being an Austronesian language, it is related to such languages as Indonesian, Malay, Fijian, Maori (of New Zealand), Hawaiian, Malagasy (of Madagascar), Samoan, Tahitian, Chamorro (of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), Tetum (of East Timor), and Paiwan (of Taiwan).



Ilokanos are descendants of Austronesian-speaking people from southern China via Taiwan. Families and clans arrived by viray or bilog, meaning boat. The term Ilokano originated from i-, meaning "from", and looc, meaning "cove or bay", thus "people of the bay." Ilokanos also refer to themselves as Samtoy, a contraction from the Ilokano phrase saö mi ditoy, meaning "our language here".


Ilokano comprises its own branch in the Philippine Cordilleran family of languages. It is spoken as a native language by eight million people.

A lingua franca of the northern region, it is spoken as a secondary language by more than two million people who are native speakers of Pangasinan, Ibanag, Ivatan, and other languages in Northern Luzon.

Geographic distribution

Ilokano population distribution. Enlarge picture to see percent distribution.

Ilokanos occupy the narrow, barren strip of land in the northwestern tip of Luzon, squeezed in between the inhospitable Cordillera mountain range to the east and the South China Sea to the west. This harsh geography molded a people known for their clannishness, tenacious industry and frugality, traits that were vital for survival. It also induced Ilokanos to become a migratory people, always in search for better opportunities and for land to build a life on. Although their homeland constitutes the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra, their population has spread east and south of their original territorial borders. It is also spoken in Philippine areas far from Ilokano region, like Metro Manila, Cebu, and Mindanao (like Davao City).

Ilokano pioneers flocked to the more fertile Cagayan Valley, Apayao mountains and the Pangasinan plains during the 18th and 19th centuries and now constitute a majority in many of these areas. In the 20th century, many Ilokano families moved further south to Mindanao. They became the first Filipino ethnic group to immigrate en masse to North America (the so-called Manong generation), forming sizable communities in the American states of Hawaii, California, Washington and Alaska. Ilokano is the native language of most of the original Filipino immigrants in the United States, but Tagalog is used by more Filipino-Americans because it is the national language of the people of the Philippines.

A large, growing number of Ilokanos can also be found in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Canada and Europe.

Writing system


Pre-colonial Ilokanos of all classes wrote in a syllabic system prior to European arrival. They used a system that is termed as an abugida, or an alphasyllabary. It was similar to the Tagalog and Pangasinan scripts, where each character represented a consonant-vowel, or CV, sequence. The Ilokano version, however, was the first to designate coda consonants with a diacritic mark - a cross virama, shown in the Doctrina Cristiana of 1621, one of the earliest surviving Ilokano publications. Before the addition of the virama, writers had no way to designate coda consonants. The reader, on the other hand, had to guess whether the vowel was read or not.

Our Father prayer from Doctrina Cristiana, 1621.


In recent times, there have been two systems in use: The "Spanish" system and the "Tagalog" system. In the Spanish system words of Spanish origin kept their spellings. Native words, on the other hand, conformed to the Spanish rules of spelling. Nowadays, only the older generation of Ilokanos use the Spanish system.

The system based on that of Tagalog is more phonetic. In this system each letter receives one phonetic value, and better reflects the actual pronunciation of the word. [1]The reverse is true for the vowel /u/ where it has two representations in native words. The vowel /u/ is written o when it appears in the last syllable of the word or of the root, for example kitaemonto /ki.ta.e.mun.tu/. In addition, e represents two vowels in the southern dialect: [ɛ] and [ɯ]. The letters ng, however, constitute a digraph and follows the letter n in alphabetization. As a result, numo humility appears before ngalngal to chew in newer dictionaries. Words of foreign origin, most notably those from Spanish, need to be changed in spelling to better reflect Ilokano phonology. The weekly magazine Bannawag is known to use this system.


Main article: Ilokano literature

Ilokano animistic past offers a rich background in folklore, mythology and superstition (see Religion in the Philippines). There are many stories of good and malevolent spirits and beings. Its creation mythology centers on the giants Aran and her husband Angngalo, and Namarsua (the Creator).

The epic story Biag ni Lam-ang (The Life of Lam-ang) is undoubtedly one of the few indigenous stories from the Philippines that survived colonialism, although much of it is now acculturated and shows many foreign elements in the retelling. It reflects values important to traditional Ilokano society; it is a hero’s journey steeped in courage, loyalty, pragmatism, honor, and ancestral and familial bonds.

Ilokano culture revolves around life rituals, festivities and oral history. These were celebrated in songs, dances, poems, riddles, proverbs, literary verbal jousts called bucanegan and epic stories. ito ang mga taong matatapang at walag kinatatkutan kahit sino sa inyo kaya magingat kayo sa mga sinasabi ninyo




Modern Ilokano has a five-vowel system in the North and six-vowel system in the South.

  • North: /a/, /i/, /u/,/ɛ/,/o/
  • South: /a/, /i/, /u/,/ɛ/,/o/,/ɯ/

The letter in bold is the graphic (written) representation of the vowel.

Ilokano Vowel Chart
Height Front Central Back
Close i /i/ e /ɯ/, u/o /u/
Mid e /ɛ/ o /o/
Open a /a/

For a better redition of vowel distribution, please refer to the IPA Vowel Chart.

Although the modern (Tagalog) writing system is largely phonetic, there are some notable conventions.

In native morphemes, the close back rounded vowel /u/ is written differently depending on the syllable. If the vowel occurs in the ultima of the morpheme, it is written o; elsewhere, u.

    Root: luto cook
          agluto to cook
          lutuen to cook (something)

Instances such as kitaekonto, I will take a look at it, are still consistent. Note that kitaekonto (actual spelling: kitakto) is, in fact, three morphemes: kitae(n) (verb base) , ko (pronoun) and (n)to (future particle). An exception to this rule, however, is laud /la.ʔud/, west. Also, u in final stressed syllables can be pronounced [o], like [da'nom] for danum (water).

That said, the two vowels are not highly differentiated in native words, due to fact that /o/ was an allophone of /u/ in the history of the language. In words of foreign origin, notably Spanish, they are phonemic.

    uso use
    oso bear

Unlike u and o, i and e are not allophones, but i in final stressed syllables in words ending in consonants can be [ε], like ubíng [u’bεŋ] (child).

The two close vowels become glides when followed by another vowel. The close back rounded vowel /u/ becomes [w] before another vowel. The close front unrounded vowel /i/ and becomes the glide [j] before another vowel.

    kuarta /kwar.ta/ money
    paria /par.ya/ bitter melon

In addition, dental/alveolar consonants become palatalized before /i/. (See Consonants below).

The letter e represent two vowels in the Southern dialect, /ɛ/ in words of foreign origin and /ɯ/ in native words, and only one in the Northern dialect, /ɛ/.

Realization of 'e'
Word Gloss Origin Northern Dialect Southern Dialect
keddeng assign Native kɛd.dɛŋ kɯd.dɯŋ
elepante elephant Spanish ʔɛ.lɛ.pan.tɛ ʔɛ.lɛ.pan.tɛ


Diphthongs are combination of a vowel and /i/ or /u/. In the orthography, the secondary vowels are written with their corresponding glide, y or w. Of all the possible combinations, only /ai/ or /ei/, /iu/, /ai/ and /ui/ occur. In the orthography, vowels in sequence such as uo and ai, do not coelesce into a diphthong, rather, they are pronounced with an intervening glottal stop, for example, buok hair /bu.ʔuk/ and dait sew /da.ʔit/.

Diphthong Orthography Example
/au/ aw kabaw "senile"
/iu/ iw iliw "home sick"
/ai/ ay maysa "one"
/ei/[2] ey idiey "there" (Regional variant. Standard: "idiay")
/oi/, /ui/[3] oy, uy baboy "pig"


Bilabial Dental /
Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops Voiceless p t k - [ʔ][4]
Voiced b d g
Affricates Voiceless (ts, tiV) [tʃ][5]
Voiced (diV) [dʒ][5]
Fricatives s (siV) [ʃ][5] h
Nasals m n (niV) [nj][5] ng [ŋ]
Laterals l (liV) [lj][5]
Flaps r
Semivowels (w, CuV) w[5] (y, CiV) [j][5]

All consonantal phonemes may be the syllable onset or coda. Exceptions are /h/ and /ʔ/. The phoneme /h/ is loaned and rarely occurs in coda position. Although, the Spanish word, reloj, clock, would come into Ilokano as */re.loh/, the final /h/ is dropped resulting in /re.lo/. However, this word may have entered the Ilokano lexicon at early enough a time that the word was still pronounced /re.loʒ/, with the j pronounced as in French, resulting in /re.los/ in Ilokano. Both, /re.lo/ and /re.los/ occur.

The glottal stop /ʔ/ is not permissible as coda; it can only occur as onset. Even as an oset, the glottal stop disappears in affixation. Take for example the root aramat, use. When prefixed with ag-, the expected form is *ag-aramat /ʔag.ʔa.ra.mat/. But, the actual form is, in fact, agaramat /ʔ; the glottal stop disappears. In a reduplicated form, the glottal stop returns and participates in the template, CVC, agar-aramat /ʔa.gar.ʔa.ra.mat/.

Stops are pronounced without aspiration. When they occur as coda, they are not released, for example, sungbat [suŋ.bat̚] answer, response.

Ilocano is one of the Philippine languages which is excluded from [ɾ]-[d] allophone, as /r/ in many cases is derived from a Proto-Austonesian */G/, compare dugo (Tagalog) and dara (Ilokano) blood.


Main article: Ilokano grammar

Ilokano employs a predicate-initial structure. Verbs and adjectives occur in the first position of the sentence, then the rest of the sentence follows.

Ilokano uses a highly complex list of affixes (prefixes, suffixes, infixes and enclitics) and reduplications to indicate a wide array of grammatical categories. Learning simple root words and corresponding affixes goes a long way in forming cohesive sentences.



Ilokano's vocabulary has a closer affinity to languages from Borneo. Foreign accretion comes largely from Spanish, followed by English and smatterings of Hokkien (Min Nan), Arabic and Sanskrit.

Examples of Borrowing
Word Source Original Meaning Ilokano meaning
arak Arabic drink similar to sake generic alcoholic drink
karma Sanskrit deed (see Buddhism) spirit
Sanglay Hokkien to deliver goods to deliver/Chinese merchant
agbuldos English to bulldoze to bulldoze
kuarta Spanish copper coin money
kumusta Spanish greeting "How are you?" how are you

Common expressions

Yes Wen
No Saan or Haan
How are you? Kumusta ka?
Good day Naimbag nga aldaw
Good morning Naimbag a bigat
Good afternoon Naimbag a malem
Good evening Naimbag a rabii
What is your name? Ania ti naganmo? (often contracted to Aniat' naganmo?)
Where's the bathroom? Ayanna ti banio?
I love you Ay-ayatenka or Ipatpategka
Sorry Pakawan or Dispensar
Goodbye Agpakadaakon or Kastan/Kasta pay (Till then) or Sige (Okay) or Innakon (I'm going)

Numbers (Bilang), Days, Months

0 ibbong OR awan OR sero (English zero) OR itlog (Ilokano slang, "egg")
0.25 (1/4) kakappat
0.50 (1/2) kagudua
1 maysa
2 dua
3 tallo
4 uppat
5 lima
6 innem
7 pito
8 walo
9 siam
10 sangapulo
11 sangapulo ket maysa
20 duapulo
50 limapulo
100 sangagasut
1000 sangaribu
1000000 sangariwriw
1000000000 sangabilion (English, billion)

Days and months are of Spanish origin:

Days of the Week
Monday Lunes
Tuesday Martes
Wednesday Mierkoles
Thursday Huebes
Friday Biernes
Saturday Sabado
Sunday Domingo
January Enero    July Hulio
February Pebrero August Agosto
March Marso September Settiembre
April Abril October Oktubre
May Mayo November Nobiembre
June Hunio December Disiembre
Units of time
second kanito OR segundo
minute minuto OR daras
day aldaw
week lawas OR domingo
month bulan
year tawen OR anio

To mention time, Ilokanos use a mixture of Spanish and Ilokano:

1:00 a.m. A la una iti bigat (One in the morning)
2:30 p.m. A las dos imedia iti malem (in Spanish, Son las dos y media de la tarde or "half past two in the afternoon")

Ilokano uses a mixture of ilokano and Spanish numbers. Traditionally ilokano numbers are used for quantities and Spanish numbers for time of days and references. Examples:

Spanish: Mano ti tawenmo? Beintiuno How old are you? Twenty one

Luktanyo dagiti Bibliayo iti libro ni Juan capitulo tres bersikolo diesiseis. Open your Bibles to the book of John chapter three verse sixteen.

Ilokano: Mano a kilo a bagas ti kayatmo? Sangapulo laeng. How many kilos of rice do you want? Ten only.

Adda dua nga ikan kenkuana. He has two fish.

More Ilokano words

  • adda = there is
  • adalem = deep
  • adayo = far
  • ading = younger brother/sister
  • adu = many, plenty
  • agtaltalon = farmer
  • aldaw = day
  • ania = what
  • aysus! = Oh, Jesus/Oh, my God!
  • aray! = Ouch!
  • apay = why
  • apong = grandparent
  • apong baket = grandmother
  • apong lakay = grandfather
  • apoy = fire
  • asideg = near
  • awan = nothing
  • ayat = love
  • baba = down
  • babai = female
  • bakla = effeminate male
  • baket = old women / wife
  • balla/bagtit = crazy
  • banglo = fragrance
  • bangsit = stink
  • bassit = little
  • basul = fault, wrongdoing
  • bigat = morning
  • bisin = hungry
  • (ag)buya = (to) watch
  • gayyem = friend
  • kaanakan = niece / nephew
  • kabsat = sibling
  • kannawan = right
  • kannigid = left
  • kasinsin = cousin
  • katawa = laugh
  • kayat = like
  • dakkel = big
  • danum = water
  • dayaw = respect
  • inang = mother
  • ladaw = late
  • lalaki = male
  • lakay = old man / husband
  • lemmeng = hide
  • ling-et = sweat
  • lugar = place
  • magna = walk
  • malem = afternoon
  • manang = older sister or relative; can also be applied to women a little older than the speaker
  • mangan = eat
  • manong = older brother or relative; can also be applied to men a little older than the speaker
  • mari = female friend/mother
  • nabara = warm
  • nabudo = itchy
  • nana = grandmother
  • nasam-it = sweet
  • naalsem = sour
  • nailet = tight
  • nalaing = intelligent, genius
  • nalamiis = cold
  • nalawa = wide
  • ngato = top
  • napait = bitter
  • naapgad = salty
  • (na)pintas = beautiful (woman)
  • napigket = sticky
  • napudot = hot
  • nasayaat = good
  • nataraki = cute (man, slightly impolite connotation, but properly used on an animal, as for a rooster)
  • (na)guapo = handsome (man)
  • pari = close male friend/father (priest)
  • pustaan = bet or wager
  • rabaw = on top
  • rabii = night
  • riing = wake up
  • ruar = outside
  • (na)rugit = dirty/dirt
  • sadut = lazy
  • (na)sakit = (it) hurts
  • (ag)sangit = (to) cry
  • takrot = coward/afraid
  • tata = grandfather
  • tatang = father
  • (ag)takder = (to) stand
  • taray = run
  • tayag = height
  • (ag)tugaw = (to) sit
  • turog = sleep
  • ubing = child
  • unnat = straight

See also


  1. ^ The reverse is true for the vowel /u/ where it has two representations in native words. The vowel /u/ is written o when it appears in the last syllable of the word or of the root, for example kitaemonto /ki.ta.e.mun.tu/. In addition, e represents two vowels in the southern dialect: [ɛ] and [ɯ].
  2. ^ The diphthong /ei/ is a variant of /ai/.
  3. ^ The distinction between /o/ and /u/ is minimal.
  4. ^ Words that begin with a vowel begin with a glottal stop. This is not shown in the orthography. When it occurs within a word, a hyphen is used to represent it, for example lab-ay [lab.ʔaj].
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Letters in parentheses are orthographic conventions that are used.

External links

Ilokano language edition of Wikipiniana, the free encyclopedia

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